Glastonbury and the Isle of Avalon

View from Glastonbury Tor. 

I always thought that the legend of King Arthur was just that, a legend. To my surprise and delight Glastonbury, UK is a place where the lore is alive and well, to the point where they believe they once found the bodies of King Arthur and Guinevere. I did a triple take when I saw the sign.  Myth or not, Glastonbury is a place where the spiritual masses congregate looking to be healed, heal and share. Christianity and the lore of Avalon mix here seemingly without contradiction. The main street is littered with crystal shops, book shops and every manner of new age glory. Shop names include "The Goddess and the Green Man," ,"The Psychic Piglet," and “Cat & Cauldron,” among many others.  If you are new age inclined this is the place for you.

Glastonbury Abbey 
Duck pond! 

If you find yourself of the persuasion that has no interest in ever going in a shop called “The Psychic Piglet,” there is plenty for you too. Glastonbury Abbey  is a beautiful ruin and park area that can be meandered for hours. The museum is informative as are the tours. The self guided map also did the job quite well. The property includes ruins of the former Abbey, a duck pond, walking trails and a lovely selection of ancient trees. It can be found just off the square at the bottom of Main Street. They were setting up for a music festival that was not the famous Glastonbury one, while I was there. Events are a regular at this spot. The famous Glastonbury Festival actually takes place out in the farmland and not in the town. For more on that.

Glastonbury Tor

Inside the Tor.
Glastonbury  Tor

Glastonbury Tor is also a great spot for every type of traveler. One walks up a steep hill and is presented with a view of the surrounding miles of green farmland. The area visible from that vantage point was once completely underwater, Glastonbury was once an island. Glastonbury hill is called by some the Holy Hill of Avalon another nod to the lore of King Arthur.  Glastonbury Tor is literally a hill with a tower on it (Tor meaning tower). It is easily accessible from town via a public footpath, or rather two of them. If you take the one that appears first (both are on the left hand side as you head away from town at the north end of main street) you will eventually end up in a pasture with grazing cattle. You will have to let yourself out and take a left to be able to walk up the “backside” of the Tor. If you take the second footpath, just past the Chalice Well you will walk up the “front.” Both ways are beautiful, I suggest walking up one and down the other. The Tor is not to be missed but does not have any handicap access. It is a straight up and down hill with stairs.

The Chalice Well and Gardens are a peaceful, reflective and sacred place for the pilgrims who visit Glastonbury each year. Even if you don’t believe it is sacred, it is still a beautiful place to visit. The well runs slightly red due to the metallic iron found in it. It is said that for some “it represents the blood of Christ 
miraculously springing forth from the ground when Joseph of Arimathea buried or washed the cup used atthe 
Last Supper.”  It is said to be a healing spring and all are encouraged to drink from it. I did pour a few sips worth into my water bottle directly from the spring. It does not taste great as one would expect, but there is a ceremony about it, an unwitting participation in the sacred just by drinking. Some believe that the waters have healing powers. While I took the sip just to take in the experience, many others bring bottles and jugs and take the water away with them. At the entrance they even sell containers for you to do just that. People arrive throughout the day to collect the water and take it home with them. Regardless of your persuasion and beliefs, a visit to the chalice well and gardens will leave you feeling calm and peaceful.

Chalice Well 

Chalice Well Drinking Spout

Stained with red.
Between the second public path leading to the Tor and the Chalice well, there is a discreet street that houses another holy well. The White Spring, which is remarkably close to the red running Chalice well, runs white with calcium. It is a more secretive place for pilgrimage that used to flow out into the street. As of late a Temple was built to house it. The temple is dark, only lit by candle, in contrast to the Chalice Well which is bright with daylight and out in the open surrounded by gardens. It is open odd hours as the people who look after it are volunteers. Most of the time you have to just hope it is open. It is incredibly nondescript, even if you looked up the street you might not notice it, but once you know it is there and are looking for it, you will see it clearly.  Both of these springs are found at the base of the Holy Hill of Avalon and are shrouded in mystery, how could two springs, so close in location, be so starkly different in makeup.

Glastonbury is a town of just 9,000, a fact I was surprised by when I arrived. I had a picture in my head of a city type place with avenues upon avenues of shops. In reality the town is quite small, with a fair amount of it being residential. Main Street really is the main street. This adds of course to the lore, kitsch and quaintness of the place. Glastonbury is a place I would happily revisit in the future.

Top Tips and Links

Due to the size, most of the attractions are easily accessible by foot.

Your best bet for lodging is one of the many B&Bs throughout the town. I stayed in Pilgrims B&B, which was great and spiritually focused. There are plenty of all types throughout town. 

Get off the main street and head to the local pubs for food and drink. There are many nestled in the neighborhoods. I tried the Who'd A Thought it? and had a great meal. When a bee flew in my beer outside the locals gave me a hand (it was still alive) and a fresh beer.

Good overall Glastonbury Site